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Barbed Wire, the Thorny Fence that Transformed the West
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A barbed wire fence at sunset

A barbed wire fence at sunset

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Twig of Osage orange
Twig of Osage orange

Barbed Wire, The Thorny Fence that Transformed the West ›

Life in the American West was reshaped by a series of patents for a simple invention that helped ranchers tame the land: barbed wire. This popular fencing tool hurried westward expansion and influenced life in the region as dramatically as the rifle, telegraph, windmill, and locomotive.

“Barbed wire was not created by men who happened to twist and cut wire in a particular fashion. It originated in a deliberate attempt to copy an organic form that functioned effectively as a deterrent to livestock.”--George Basalla, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Delaware

Several people developed different types of barbed wire. Some of the inventors borrowed their idea from thorny Osage orange trees. Farmers planted them in rows as living fences.

Osage orange trees provided a thorny growth within five years that was said to be “horse high, bull strong, and hog tight.”

Next: Inventing the Barbed Wire ›

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